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Oklahoma attorney general, 11 others file lawsuit against EPA over 'sue and settle' tactics

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and 11 other attorneys general want the Environmental Protection Agency to fulfill a records request that may shed light whether the agency encourages “friendly lawsuits” for stricter enforcement of environmental regulations.
by Paul Monies Modified: July 16, 2013 at 9:22 pm •  Published: July 17, 2013

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt joined Republican colleagues from 11 other states Tuesday in filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency related to what they call the agency's “sue and settle” strategy for regulation.

Pruitt and the other attorneys general sent an information request in August asking the EPA for records that could show whether the agency was encouraging environmental groups to sue it for missing regulatory and statutory deadlines.

The practice, dubbed “sue and settle” by Pruitt and other critics of the Obama administration, contends the EPA settled lawsuits brought over missed deadlines with consent decrees that are stricter than the original regulations.

“It's a regulation-through-litigation type of initiative,” Pruitt said at a news conference in Oklahoma City. “Friendly lawsuits apparently are being encouraged. We were concerned because our due process, as a state and citizens of Oklahoma, were potentially being affected adversely. And not just Oklahoma, but 11 other states.”

Pruitt's lawsuit, filed in federal court in Oklahoma City, asks the EPA to fulfill an amended version of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in August. That request sought details about communications agency officials may have had with environmental groups who later sued EPA. It covered more than 80 health, labor and environmental groups and 45 consent decrees related to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and other federal laws.

EPA asked the attorneys general to narrow their request, then denied a fee-waiver request. Pruitt said the request was narrowed in February to cover just EPA communications with groups that were involved with regulations over regional haze under the Clean Air Act.

“We were very specific, and very narrow, on Clean Air Act and regional haze specifically,” Pruitt said. “The EPA rejected that in May. We have been patiently working with the EPA since last August on a very important matter of transparency and a very important matter of due process.”

A false notion?

Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman with EPA in Washington, said the agency is reviewing the allegations in the lawsuit. But she said the idea of “sue and settle” was a false notion.

“We as an agency have no input or control over what parties sue us or what issues they focus on,” Johnson said. “We can't enter into settlements that provide us with new or additional authority.”

Pruitt's lawsuit cited research from the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank, saying EPA granted fee-waiver requests more often to environmental groups than conservative groups.

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by Paul Monies
Energy Reporter
Paul Monies is an energy reporter for The Oklahoman. He has worked at newspapers in Texas and Missouri and most recently was a data journalist for USA Today in the Washington D.C. area. Monies also spent nine years as a business reporter and...
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